You’ve recently started planting different plants and vegetable crops in your garden. You’re happy with how things are going, but you worry about a bug infestation. You know that they’re bound to appear at some point and you want to prepare yourself.
You’ve heard ‘potato bug’ mentioned in gardening circles and you want to know more. You need to know how to deal with these pests that are considered harmful to your garden.
What Is a Potato Bug?
When gardeners talk about potato bugs or pill bugs, they’re referring to two kinds of bugs in particular. These potato bugs are the Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus fuscus) and the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata).
The potato bug can rapidly infest your green sanctuary. Destroying your precious crops and ruining the yield in the process.
Why Do They Call Them Potato Bugs?
These insects get their name from their preferred diet. They’re known to feast on different garden crops including various parts of potato fields:
Jerusalem crickets, also known as Stenopelmatus fuscus, aren’t actually crickets. They’re in the same order of insects (Orthoptera), but unlike other crickets, they don’t chirp. Rather, they hiss using their rear limbs and their midsection.
Jerusalem crickets are most commonly found in the western and southwestern United States. They can also be found in areas of Mexico. But this bug isn’t found in the city of Jerusalem as the name would have you believe.
This potato bug is a nocturnal creature and resides below the surface of your soil. It measures up to 2.5 inches and almost looks alien with a huge head for its body. The insects have thick limbs which they use to dig into the ground. These legs are red and yellow, and their midsections with brown and black stripes.
Colorado Potato Beetles
Colorado potato beetles, or Leptinotarsa decemlineata, are found in different parts of the world, including:
- The mainland United States
This insect was first observed feeding on potatoes in Colorado in 1859 and quickly spread across the U.S. They are now found throughout North America in every state and are a major pest for both home gardeners and commercial agriculture.
A Colorado potato beetle measures approximately ⅜ of an inch and has the round shape of a beetle. The insects are mainly orange in color with black and white stripes.
These common little bugs can fly and can present more of an infestation risk if a swarm of them appear.
How Can You Tell if You Have a Potato Bug Problem?
Potato bugs overwinter in the soil and emerge in late spring, around the same time potato vegetation appears. They lay clusters of small, orange eggs on the undersides of leaves.
Young larvae are deep red with blackheads; older larvae are pink to salmon with blackheads. All larvae have black spots on the sides of their bodies. In warm weather, larvae may mature in as little as 10 days. In regions with long, hot summers, potato bugs may have two or more generations each year.
You’ll know you have a potato bug infestation on your hands if you notice damaged flower buds. This is what the larva eats first because the flower buds are the softest parts. After eating these, the little potato bug rapidly proceeds to consume the leaves.
As well as eating your potatoes, potato bugs eat other foods:
|Colorado Potato Bug||
Colorado beetles are more serious pests than Jerusalem crickets because they prefer potatoes. Whereas the crickets happily consume the other elements of their diet.
Potato Beetle Life Cycle
This potato bug’s life cycle begins in the spring when eggs are laid. The female beetle attaches about 30 eggs on the base of leaves at a time. She can produce around 900 eggs throughout her life.
The eggs the female lays take approximately two weeks to hatch. Once the larvae hatch, they feast on your crops, growing for another two weeks. At this stage, they become pupae.
Depending on the weather, it can take a month between the eggs being laid and the pupae becoming adults. Colder weather can delay this process by a further two weeks.
Once the pests are adults, they mate and create more eggs. You can have three generations of these beetles in a single year.
Are Potato Bugs Bad?
Potato bugs feed on the leaves and stems of potato plants and other nightshades. In large numbers, they may completely defoliate the plant. Potato plants can usually withstand infestations early in the season. But the damage is severe if it occurs when the potato tubers are actively growing, usually right after blooming.
Jerusalem crickets are considered a threat when they come in swarms. When there are few of them in fields, they can easily be removed one by one through different means. What’s important in such instances is to also remove items where they can hide such as wood piles or old pots.
It takes more effort to get rid of the beetles, however, as they cause more damage to foliage and hatch in numbers.
Do Potato Bugs Bite Humans?
None of the bugs are hazardous to human beings, however, the crickets can bite and cause pain. You should avoid agitating these pests directly. Give them the chance to flee instead of attacking you.
The beetles, on the other hand, are practically harmless to you. Their threat is entirely towards your crops.
How Do You Kill Potato Bugs?
There are different ways to get rid of potato bugs depending on which type you have to exterminate.
Getting Rid of Jerusalem Crickets
The crickets will not appear in large numbers in most cases. This makes your work easier as methods of removing them are narrowed to:
- Removal by hand from host plants
- Use of traps
- Neem oil spray
- Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is sand taken from deep within the earth consisting of fossilized algae. This substance is 100% safe for your crops and humans. Spreading a little amount around your crops should do the trick and shouldn’t cost you more than $10.
“Diatomaceous earth is used as an insecticide to remove the waxy outer coating from the exoskeleton of insects. Some believe that it can also kill parasites, but this needs further research.” – Healthline
Getting Rid of Colorado Potato Beetles
To control the removal of beetles, you may choose various options including crop rotation. In such cases, you should grow crops such as:
- Sweet potatoes
Other methods of killing Colorado beetles involve:
Turning Your Crops
Similarly to dealing with crickets, rotation prevents beetles from settling on your crops. Changing what you plant often between potatoes and grains means pests can’t get comfortable.
Covering your crops with mulch may help in eliminating a potato bug by repelling it.
“Mulch is any material that is spread or laid over the surface of the soil as a covering. It is used to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds, keep the soil cool, and make the garden bed look more attractive. Organic mulches also help improve the soil’s fertility, as they decompose.” – The Spruce
Different kinds of mulch can include:
- Grass clippings
- Pine needles
- Plastic sheeting
Mulch can also assist you in your gardening by:
- Preventing erosion
- Limiting the number of weeds
- Releasing nutrients into the soil
- Inviting earthworms which enhance soil structure
- Keeping moisture within the soil
- Increasing the temperature of your soil
You can trap beetles by digging wide trenches at a slanted angle in-between your crop’s rows. You should cover each trench with plastic. This results in beetles falling into the trenches and being trapped.
Placing Bug Predators
You can deal with pest control by letting other animals do all the work of eliminating them. There are a number of predators and beneficial insects that feast on a potato-consuming insect such as:
- Ground beetles
- Parasitic wasps
- Box turtles
- Spotted lady beetles
Using Soapy Water
When you notice potato bugs on your crops, you can pick them and put them in a bucket of soapy water. If you choose this method, you should check your plants on a daily basis for proper insect control.
Growing Beetle Resistant Potatoes
Potato cultivars like the ‘King Harry’ which repel bugs are a great choice of potatoes. They’re able to resist bugs because of the leaf hairs which discourage beetles from approaching.
Using the Right Insecticides
Most insecticides won’t work on a Colorado potato beetle, but those that will contain:
Spinosad is safer to use than any Bifenthrin-containing pesticide, so if you have a choice, it’s your best bet.
Bacillus thuringiensis is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that paralyzes the gut of potato bugs, slowly starving them. Read package labeling, though, and buy Bt labeled specifically for use on potato bugs, since many products work only on moth larvae.
Now that you know everything about potato bugs, discover more about potatoes. On the Gardening Channel, you’ll find articles on a wide range of cultivation topics including:
- How to grow potatoes in a container
- How to store potatoes
- How to grow potatoes in your vegetable garden
Read these articles and more to become a gardening expert.